TOPICS > Health

Texting to Track Malaria Supplies

BY Imani M. Cheers  July 22, 2011 at 12:57 PM EDT

Photo by Talea Miller

With just a text message, retailers can now inform local clinics when their shops are getting low on life saving supplies, such as bed nets treated with insecticide that ward off malaria-carrying mosquitos.

Bed nets have been a crucial weapon in the fight against malaria, and more than 300 million have been distributed since 2008 in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

In Tanzania, where almost 2 million cases of malaria are reported each year, a new voucher program provides the treated nets to pregnant women and children — who are especially vulnerable to malaria – at a discounted price of 500 Tanzania Shillings (about $0.35). The scheme is gaining popularity — instead of giving out nets for free every few years, the program builds up a more sustainable system by integrating clinics, wholesalers, retailers and net manufacturers.

Health workers have also found that when a family makes a small investment in the net, it becomes a more valued commodity.

The mobile technology feature allows for quick communication about stock levels and use of nets by the community. Once a woman takes a voucher to the local retailer she exchanges it for a bed net. The retailer then uses his or her cell to send a text message back to a Canadian organization, MEDA, which helps run the program. That text provides vital data,  including the number of bed nets provided to the community and how many are needed in their next shipment.

Each shipment contains a predetermined number of bed nets for a specific region based on their unique needs. Once the bed nets are delivered and the vouchers are collected, the retailers receive monetary compensation.   

While the voucher system has been in existence for almost a decade, it used to be paper based. By incorporating mobile technology, the organization has been able to operate more efficiently. They are currently in the process of developing text message based vouchers to expedite the process of reimbursing retailers for participating in the program.

Watch a MEDA employee give a tour of the technology hub of the program: